The greatest Masters matches ever

April 5, 2015

Whether it’s Tiger Woods draining a 15-footer on the first playoff hole, Phil Mickelson lifting the monkey off his back or The Golden Bear celebrating on the 18th green, the Masters has had many memorable matches. Here are some of the best.

2005: Tiger Woods vs. Chris DiMarco (276-276, won playoff at first hole)

Major-less since 2002, Woods strode to the 16th tee with a one-shot lead. He missed long, while DiMarco found the heart of the green. DiMarco then watched helplessly as Woods chipped from 25 feet, aiming well away from the hole, only to see Woods’ ball slither down a slope, stop on the edge of the cup, and then drop in for a stunning birdie. Woods bogeyed 17 and 18 and went into a playoff with DiMarco. But Tiger drained a 15-footer on the first playoff hole to claim his fourth green jacket.

2004: Phil Mickelson vs. Ernie Els (279-280)

Saddled with the label, “the best player who hadn’t won a major,” Phil Mickelson didn’t have a monkey on his back — he had a gorilla. He lost his final-round lead when Els eagled the 8th and went two down when Els eagled the 13th. But this was a new, improved Lefty. He birdied 13, 14 and 16 to tie Els. Facing an 18-foot birdie putt to win at the 18th, he watched Chris DiMarco putt from virtually the same line, and barely miss. Properly schooled, Mickelson stepped up, and knocked it in. He leaped for joy — and at last, shed the primate from his back.

1996: Nick Faldo vs. Greg Norman (276-281)

For three rounds, Greg Norman dominated the 1996 Masters. He opened with a course record-tying 63 and added 69 and 71, for a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo. A slam-dunk win for the Shark, right? Wrong. On the final day, Norman bogeyed 9, 10 and 11, followed by a double bogey at 12 after his tee shot found the water. Suddenly, he trailed Faldo by two. They matched birdies at 13 and 15, but when Norman found the water at the par-3 16th, he was toast.

1987: Larry Mize vs. Greg Norman (285-285, won playoff at second hole)

Upstart Larry Mize may have been the hometown favorite, but he was the huge underdog in a three-way playoff. After Seve Ballesteros dropped out early, it fell to Greg Norman to burst Mize’s bubble. Instead, it was Mize who popped the champagne corks. At the second playoff hole, Mize flared an awful 5-iron approach 45 yards to the right of the 11th hole, then chose sand wedge for his third shot. He bumped it a yard short of the green and watched it track toward the hole — and drop in. Elated, Mize vaulted skyward, arms extended, making for one of golf’s most memorable images.

1975: Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Weiskopf (276-277)

Already a three-time Masters runner-up, Tom Weiskopf stood on the 16th tee, watching his old rival Nicklaus staring down a tough 40-foot putt on the green. Johnny Miller had thrown a late charge into the proceedings, but Weiskopf had snagged a one-shot lead after birdies at 14 and 15. Alas, Weiskopf’s time would never come. The Golden Bear drained his massive uphill putt and celebrated by thrusting his putter toward the heavens. Drained, Weiskopf hit a fat 5-iron that left him 80 feet away. He three-putted, then barely missed a putt to tie on the final green.

1960: Arnold Palmer vs. Ken Venturi (282-283)

Early in his reign, the King trailed Venturi by one shot with two holes to play. What happened next would cement Palmer’s reputation as a charger. Facing a 27-foot birdie putt at 17, Arnie backed away twice, then promptly holed it. At 18, he punched a 6-iron to five feet — and holed that birdie putt, too. Palmer paused momentarily and then reality hit him — he had just won his second Masters. He began jumping with glee.

1942: Byron Nelson vs. Ben Hogan (280-280, won playoff 69-70)

With World War II efforts ramping up at home and abroad, the Masters starting lineup included just 42 of the 88 invitees. But the biggest names in the game not only played, they thrived. On the morning of the playoff, Nelson woke up ill and quickly was three down after six holes. He played the next 13 holes in five-under, eagling the par-5 8th and nearly acing the par-3 12th. It was the last Masters Tournament until 1946 — but it was quite a send-off.

1935: Gene Sarazen vs. Craig Wood (282-282, won playoff 144-149)

A daunting task awaited Gene Sarazen when he arrived at the 15th tee in the final round: He needed three birdies in the final four holes to catch clubhouse-leader Craig Wood. For his second shot from roughly 225 yards, Sarazen chose a 4-wood — and nailed it. The shot landed on the far bank of the pond, hopped onto the green then rolled into the cup, for a double eagle. He tied Wood with one swing. Three pars later, he earned a playoff, and he finished off Wood the following day.